A preschooler fingerpaints happily with his playmates.. A hush falls over a crowd of friends and family as a group of middle school students get ready to put on a play. A high school band marches proudly across a football field, instruments glinting in the bright light. Even if you do not consider yourself fluent in the fine arts, these should be familiar scenes-or are they?
In recent decades, art education has been on the decline in public schools. Many schools no longer offer classes in the performing arts, such as dance and theater. While a musical or visual arts credit is still required for graduation in most places, art programs are often the first to experience cutbacks when funding is low. Even more alarming is the evidence of an equity gap in arts education- schools with a higher percentage of students in low-income brackets tend to be less likely to offer programs in the arts.
Part of the reason for suffering art education is the lack of funding for education in general. Noticeable cutbacks in state and federal funding for schools began with the 2007-2009 recession and still continues now, eight years later. More than half the american states show funding drops of over ten percent since 2008. Since an average of forty-five percent of any given school’s funding comes from the state, this translates to a very significant drop.
The other half of the story lies in prevailing attitudes toward art. Unfortunately, many fail to see the arts as an integral part of early education. Classes in music or drawing are deemed unnecessary, and while these programs are nice to have they are not thought to be vital. Several studies have proven otherwise, showing that students immersed in the arts score higher on tests, attend class more regularly, and may even be more likely to graduate high school. Arts can also help bridge the gap between racial, socioeconomic, and ethnic divides among students. As an essential element of culture and an invaluable asset to student performance, art should not be lightly brushed aside in public schools.
One way schools have been fighting the decline of the arts is by integrating them into other subjects. Asking a student to write a song on material they’ve learned demonstrates their knowledge of the subject as well as critical thinking skills. Painting a picture, building a diorama, or putting on a short play can strengthen understanding, creativity, and problem-solving. Art is essential to building skills that are valued both in school and later in the workplace.